The dance begins again Tuesday as small groups of players and owners begin meeting in the latest (maybe last) attempt to save the entire regular season. Negotiating will take place Tuesday and Wednesday before the sides break for the holiday on Wednesday night/Thursday (insert your favorite Jewish lawyer joke here).
Deadlines are getting very real and there are some who believe the real negotiation is (finally) getting set to begin. If they aren’t, then the lockout will last a little longer.
On the eve of these critical negotiations, NBPA President Derek Fisher sent another letter to the union members which just so happened to find its way into the hands of Marc Stein of ESPN.com.
Once again, Fisher stressed that the players need to remain unified to break the owners whom he alleges have some divides that will keep them from holding to their hard bargain on the hard salary cap.
“There are a number of team owners that will not lose the season over the hard cap system. We’ve been clear from Day 1 of this process that we cannot sign off on a deal that attempts in any way to include a hard salary cap for our teams. That has not changed,” Fisher said. “Unless you, the group we represent, tell us otherwise, we are prepared to hold the line for as long as it takes to preserve the system we’ve worked so hard to build.”
That was the big message stressed in his letter. Fisher is the representative of a united players union willing to do whatever his constituents want or need from him. The owners are a divided group squabbling amongst themselves on what they actually want without a defined position on the major issues the players have been ready to negotiate on since July (and before).
At least that is what Fisher would have you believe.
His latest letter says the players are unwilling to budge on the hard cap and that it is his belief, as it has been throughout the lockout, that the owners can best achieve the revenue gains they want through a revenue sharing plan. Fisher said the players, who have made concessions and brought down the amount of basketball related income that they received in the last agreement, have not received any details of the owner’s revenue sharing plan to help themselves reach their goals.
Fisher fears the owners, by delaying in this plan, are trying to get the players to agree to a plan that will hurt them in the long run. That is something Fisher and the union are unwilling to accept even to the point of losing significant parts of the season.
There is history here and Fisher asked the members of the union to be mindful of the sacrifices previous generations have had to make. In the 1998 lockout, superstars sacrificed their maximum salaries to make a system that would benefit the rank-and-file players. Now the whole league is making a sacrifice. As Fisher describes it, it is time for the large market teams to make a sacrifice for the betterment of the league.
This was undoubtedly one of the most exciting and entertaining seasons the league has seen since Michael Jordan retired. And it would be a shame if the league lost momentum from it by losing any more of the season. What comes out of this week will go a long way — a long, long way — to decide if that momentum continues or completely stops.
Fisher will continue to preach solidarity. The sliver he leaves open in his letter, and this is surprising, is that if the players want to change direction or tact, he will change direction or tact.
“I want to make something absolutely clear about this process,” Fisher wrote. “You [the players union members] ultimately have the voice and the power in these negotiations. Those of us that are in the room negotiating with the NBA cannot agree to any deal or deal points, good or bad, without taking your vote. Despite what you may hear, we don’t have the authority to sell you out or sell you short.
“We are a group of some of the most talented, savvy, businessmen and business owners in the world. We have built our own brands, launched our own and other people’s companies, helped our communities. I keep that in the forefront of my mind each time we go into a negotiating session.
“If a Bill Gates, Warren Buffett or Russell Simmons were in this, there is no way they would take a deal that is unfair. Not when we are the talent, the most coveted asset, the most valuable resource that drives this business. Keep that in your mind as we walk down this road shoulder to shoulder.”
Unity is the message from the players. Fisher is now waiting for the owners to show that they have made a similar showing.
Photos via DayLife.com.